South West Wales

Gwaun Valley children mark old New Year

Gwaun valley
Children can walk up to 18 miles around the Gwaun Valley to receive their 'calennig', or New Year gifts of sweets, fruit and money

Children in the Pembrokeshire hills spent Friday, 13 January walking the 18 miles (29km) around their valley singing to their neighbours to welcome in the New Year.

They were not two weeks late, but rather celebrating Hen Galan, or old New Year, based on the ancient Julian calendar followed until it was superseded in parts of Britain by the Gregorian calendar in the 18th Century.

The Gregorian calendar cut 11 days from September 1752 out of existence in an attempt to correct a growing discrepancy between dates of festivals and the actual seasons.

However, the people of the Gwaun Valley near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire ignored this decree and carried on regardless.

In keeping with tradition, children from the valley walk from house to house and sing traditional songs in Welsh which have not altered for centuries.

In return, householders shower them with sweets and money - or "calennig", literally "New Year gift or celebration".

The local school, Ysgol Llanychllwydog in Pontfaen, was open but the teachers did not expect to see much of their 25 pupils that day.

Acting headteacher Glesni James told BBC Wales: "The children are all out going around the valley singing. There may be a handful of children here.

"They all call here and sing for us."

Teacher Ruth Morgan knew all too well how the day would unfold for her pupils.

As a child of the valley herself, the 29-year-old spent every year until her early teens out with her family and friends serenading the local residents.

She described a typical Hen Galan day, saying: "You'd get up, have breakfast and go out to sing in the local houses, wishing them a happy New Year.

"They gave us sweets and money as 'calennig'.

"Nobody organises anything - parents just take their children around and this is passed on from one generation to another.

"I remember going round on a horse one year. It wasn't a good idea because there was nowhere to tether it at most places."

For the adults, there are a few local establishments that they can visit to welcome in the New Year in grown-up fashion.

"Everybody gets together for a bit of a singsong. I think years ago they used to do it in a farmhouse," she said.

"There are a few songs that everybody uses. They are in Welsh, just passed on from generation to generation."

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